For nearly two decades I worked on behalf of conservative pro business issues as one part of my portfolio. As time went by it became increasingly clear to me that conservatives in general, and ideological conservatives in particular, were not very good at governing. When in power, what they believed to be true about the best environment for business, and thus for the nation, often ended badly. In the face of repeated poor results, faith in their thinking never wavered. Part of that might have been due to business and industry interests on issues of public policy that resemble conservative ideology but are entirely selfish, and not always in a bad way. The thing is, ideological conservatives seem to be blind to that, and the amalgamation of particular business friendly positions into generalized policy has not proved out very well for business or the nation.
On the other hand, and there is always an other hand, conservatives, in general, were very good at being the loyal opposition serving as a check against the extravagances of ideological liberals. At the national level, liberal ideologues tend to identify problems and then throw money at them hoping for the best. A loyal conservative opposition tends to rein that in by demanding evidence and accountability. Some liberal ideologues, well meaning in their heartfelt desire to help the poor and oppressed, can become overly patronizing, acting as if the poor and oppressed are not capable of helping themselves, and with the assumption that moving into a white dominated middle class culture and standard of living is what everyone really wants. A loyal conservative opposition can be just as patronizing, but they assume that everyone can at least tug at their own bootstraps. More conservative ideologues are happy to let others live whatever life style they like as long as they do it without government intervention, and don’t try to move into their neighborhoods. The effect is to balance the drive to do good with a healthy dose of pragmatism.
Until midway through the second Clinton term that fluid balance, and an unstated acceptance of what loyal opposition meant, usually resulted in a willingness to find a place of agreement that tended to be labeled as center left or center right under the leadership of people who knew how to negotiate, and who knew how to keep the ideologues under control. That was true even in the Reagan years, and I am no fan of Reagan. Ideological conservatives remember them as golden years but forget that Reagan was a master negotiator who irritated the living daylights out of true blue (or red) conservatives because he spoke the dogma but negotiated pragmatically.
That began to crumble toward the end of the Clinton presidency, and when the conservative ideologues took the reins under Bush II, it collapsed altogether. The idea of a loyal opposition was rejected, ejected, and decapitated with ridicule. The last six years have seen the fruits of a disloyal opposition that has poisoned the well of American politics, at least for the time being. Against all odds, the economy has dug itself out of the pit it had fallen into during the Bush II years, and yet the conservative ideologues lust after the opportunity to implement their agenda more fully this time in the firm belief that it will create an environment richer in jobs, profit, freedom, and happiness for all, while lowering taxes and reducing government spending on everything but defense.
We’ve always had ideologues of one kind or another. Mostly they have been irksome pests. Now and then, on either side of the ledger, they have come up with a good idea or two, and, given time to moderate them, some have been profitably enacted into law. What we have at the moment is a dreadful lack of pragmatic political leadership in the congress who are capable of negotiating in good faith. Instead we have conservative leadership pandering to the ideologues on their side, and progressive leadership that muddles through while exhibiting a public image of cluelessness. Other than that, I have no strong opinions on the matter.